The Northwest Territories is easing indoor capacity limits, allowing for indoor gatherings up to 200 people.
The move, announced Tuesday, will allow restaurants, offices and other businesses to return to regular capacity levels. Physical distancing of at least two metres is also no longer required for people who are not in the same group for both indoor and outdoor gatherings.
The relaxation comes as the territory hit a milestone it laid out in its COVID-19 recovery plan.
As of Saturday, 72 per cent of eligible residents in the territory ages 18 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 66 per cent are fully vaccinated.
The territory's plan, dubbed Emerging Wisely, required either a partial vaccine rate between 66 and 75 per cent or a fully vaccinated level of 75 per cent for eligible residents 18 and older to allow for indoor gatherings of up to 200 people.
"You can go to people's houses, have people over, have workplace get-togethers, and parties," according to the plan.
While most events and gatherings with up to 200 people are permitted without any further approvals required, the territory's Office of the Chief Public Health Officer (CPHO) still recommends that organizers complete a risk assessment and apply recommended safety measures, if appropriate.
The CPHO also says there are some "high-risk activities" that will still need additional approvals, including:
gatherings of more than 200 people;
funerals/celebrations of life;
wind instrument performances;
For more information on what the territory considers high-risk, visit the territory's COVID-19 website.
Changes for mineral and petroleum industry
In addition to the changes to gathering limits, the territory announced it has removed a requirement for anyone employed or contracted at a work camp in the mineral or petroleum resources industry to complete 14 days of social distancing before being permitted to travel to the workplace.
"We continue to ease restrictions as it becomes safe to do so. COVID-19 will not be eliminated, but we are learning how to live with it safely. Let's not get complacent," read a statement from Dr. Kami Kandola, the territory's chief medical officer of health.
"Now is the time for N.W.T. residents to take responsibility and be aware of the risks of COVID-19. Please make sure you are informed and continue to use healthy habits."
In a news conference following the release, Kandola acknowledged the challenges the indoor restrictions have had on residents, businesses and organizations.
"This has helped make the N.W.T. the safest place to be in Canada," she said.
Tourism may open by late-summer, early fall
The next milestone in the Emerging Wisely plan would allow tourists to enter, without an exemption.
That will happen when Canada overall has a weekly average of fewer than 1,000 daily new COVID-19 cases and 75 per cent of eligible residents 18 and over in the territory are fully vaccinated.
The first threshold has already been met. Kandola expects the weekly average of cases to continue to decline, and by late summer or early fall, to reach both milestones.
By mid-fall, Kandola said all restrictions in the territory could be lifted.
At the same time, she anticipates outbreak clusters in unvaccinated people, particularly in children under 12, with the return to school.
If that happens, Kandola said her office would consider increasing restrictions.